I cringe when opposing managers bring in their lefty relievers in big spots. For one, a lot of the Yankee left handed batters appear to be slumping against same side pitchers lately. When it comes to guys like Eric Chavez though, you can always forecast Joe Girardi going to his bench. Ever since last year, Andruw Jones was expected to be that guy, but thus far, his platoon splits are far from acceptable. He’s hitting just .209/.287/.411 against these lefties, which is far from ideal when he’s given big opportunities to pinch hit in.
Over his career, Jones has demolished lefties, just last year he hit .286/.384/.540. With Brett Gardner‘s early season ending injury, there was some speculation that Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez might not be able to handle all the playing time. Up until July, the veteran combination looked like a brilliant pickup from Brian Cashman, but as of late, neither have hit a lick. In particular, Jones not only looks tired, but he looks completely lost at the plate.
There were quite a few recent hits from Jones where it looked like he was completely guessing at pitches. If the 60 games in the outfield truly exhausted him to the point where he has to guess on everything, perhaps his bat speed has taken a hit. In this case, one way to determine a decline in is by using his batting average on the fastball.
Looking at the graph above you’ll see that his batting average on the fastball spiked in May, and just about half his fastballs put in play where good for hits. While June and July certainly showed a drop, the numbers were still favorable. Things absolutely collapsed in August, where he only had 4 hits on 26 fastballs put in play. Although this correlates with the all the playing time he received and the likelihood of overuse, the sample size is far too small to make a claim yet.
Using the batted balls from fastballs put in play, I added expected BABIP to the graph above. April, May, and June all show a consistent xBABIP of right around .290-.300. Once July and August hit, his xBABIP plummeted to .231 and .257, respectively. This was primarily due to a line drive rate of just 10.3% in July, and 11.5% in August, which you can compare to 20% throughout the beginning of the season.
Adding the xBABIP definitely helps prove that bad luck on batted balls didn’t occur with his decline. Just because he wasn’t squaring up the fastball doesn’t mean he lost bat speed though. Let’s take a look at some video to see if there’s any noticeable difference.
Here are two homeruns, one from May 11th and one from August 16th. As you can see, his hitting mechanics are identical.
Now that it’s slowed down, you’ll see that the homerun he hit in August is slightly different. The GIFs here are matched up to meet at the point where he makes contact with the ball. If you look at when each swing begins, Jones from August begins his swing right around 3 frames before the one on the left. That equates to a difference of 1/10th of a second. Obviously, a hitter wants to wait on a pitch as long as possible so that they can determine movement, but when you consider that it takes a 90 mph fastball .424 seconds to reach homeplate, a possible loss of .1 seconds is massive.
This evidence shows that he’s both struggling with the fastball lately, and showing less bat speed. But even with the ability to check xBABIP, the sample size available is much too small to make any definitive conclusions. The GIF above also falls into that same category, since we’re dealing with just two at bats. With the way he’s looked on the field and at the plate, I think Jones is simply burnt out. If so, a few weeks of rest is long overdue for the outfielder. It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that he can recover at least some of the stamina before a possible playoff run.
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